After making its absurd case for retiring the most capable counter-insurgency and close air support platform in existence, the USAF is deploying the Warthog back to Iraq. The Indiana Air National Guard's 122nd FW will be taking the 'Hog on an unprecedentedly large and long deployment to CENTCOM's area of operations this October where it will likely take on ISIS like only the 'Hog can.
For context, make sure you read my widely distributed special feature outlining just how ridiculous the USAF's reasoning is for retiring the entire A-10 Warthog fleet:
A move to deploy the A-10 to fight ISIS is a totally logical one, as there is no better aircraft for executing strike coordinated armed reconnaissance (SCAR) and close air support (CAS) than it. This is especially true as the hunt for ISIS fighters and material will proceed largely without the help of forward air controllers (otherwise known as JTACs) on the ground, at least according to the White House and the Pentagon.
Basically, SCAR sorties are search and destroy missions, something that is not easy to do in a relatively fragile, fuel hungry, supersonic capable jet flying at close to 20,000 feet. A modern fighter pilot, without a pair of very well trained boots on the ground, only has their soda-straw-like-field-of view-capable targeting pod, and in most cases, a tiny screen the size of a compact disc case, to actually survey the imagery it is collecting. On the other hand, the A-10, and its very ground-attack oriented skilled pilot, has all the same tools as an F-16 for CAS and SCAR missions, but it also has the ability to get much lower so that it can bring a pair of binoculars, or even a naked eyeball, to bear on the action below.
In this lower-altitude and higher threat environment, an A-10 pilot can rapidly build up a picture of what is going on, and can engage the enemy repeatedly with laser guided and GPS bombs, Maverick missiles, Wind Corrected Munitions Dispensers (guided cluster bombs), rockets and of course, its daunting 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon. Additionally, A-10 pilots are by-and-large also airborne forward air controllers (FAC-A). Building up a game plan based on the assets available, they can use their quarterback-like expertise and better vantage point to call in the weaponry carried by any other coalition aircraft in such a way that it maximizes their combined effects on the enemy.
The Warthog's straight wing maneuverability, heavy armor, defensive suite, honeycomb construction and redundant systems allows it to venture down into the MANPADS (shoulder fired heat-seeking missile) engagement envelope, an area where no other fixed wing military aircraft was actually built to operate in. If indeed the 'Hog is allowed to operate in this dynamic environment for which it was originally designed, it could deal ISIS an incredibly heavy blow.
Another unique aspect of the Warthog is its ability to be staged from airfields with minimal support infrastructure and improvements. Whereas coalition fast jet fighters such as F-16s and F-15s have to constantly suckle logistically demanding and expensive tanker gas, the A-10 can be based directly within the theater of operations, such as in Erbil, the Kurdish semi-autonomous region's capital. If not forward deployed there in full, the Warthogs could utilize austere airfields surrounding the city as forward arming and refueling points (FARPs). Here, aircrew can be swapped out, new intelligence can be relayed in person, and the jets can be rearmed and refueled before going back out over the battlefield to rapidly prosecute targets and reconnoiter for new ones.
Forward deployed A-10s operate at captured Tallil Air Base during the opening weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom:
Having the A-10s use FARPs instead of flying a thousands miles each way from a base in Qatar or Bahrain to northwestern Iraq could drastically increase sortie rates over key ISIS held towns. Doing so could also allow for a quick reaction force to respond to Kurdish or Iraqi forces under fire. This is a far less costly and more flexible tactic than having B-1B bombers, F-16s and F-15s fighters travel thousands of miles just to orbit high over Iraq while suckling tanker gas for hours on end.
Considering the nature of the ISIS threat in Iraq, wouldn't we be smart to deploy all of our available A-10 units to take the fight directly to ISIS instead of just one? This is the purpose-built jet's exact mission set, why have other, more costly assets prosecute that mission that are not as effective at it to begin with? Oh right, I forgot, because the USAF is an equal opportunity warfighting force when it comes to weapons platforms and their prospective communities. This is the same Air Force that flew B-1 and B-52 bombers over Afghanistan from Diego Garcia, close to 3,000 miles each way, for years on end. The same force that elected to fight men in mud huts with AK-47s using supersonic F-16 and F-15 fighters for over a decade instead of supplying a cheap precision attack capable light close air support and surveillance aircraft to augment and work alongside the A-10. The same USAF that does all this, then turns around and complains that they have flown the wings off their fast-jet fleet. Finally, it would sure be contradictory of the USAF to deploy the perfect asset for the job in force seeing as they want to desperately retire this asset so that they can replace them with less capable machines that cost exponentially more to procure, fly and sustain (see the F-35).
In essence, no war during the Warthog's 35-year-old career has been more in need of it and its pilot corps' very unique set of capabilities, or more worthy a cause, than the strange and fairly terrifying one that we have found ourselves in seemingly overnight with ISIS.
Hopefully, this whole ISIS fiasco will act as a strong lesson to the USAF's ever short sighted brass, that sacrificing the most effective weapon for the wars that they may no longer want to fight in the present just so they can buy vastly more expensive and unproven weapons for the wars they think they may have a slight chance of fighting in the future, is totally unacceptable and puts our nation at risk.
Without even having to fire a single shot, world events have proven the A-10's worth, and put into question the USAF leadership's ambiguous priorities, all over again.
Considering that President Obama has pledged unequivocally that there will be no American "boots on the ground" to guide high-flying fighter's and bomber's weapons on to their targets, the Warthog is our best hope at actually taking the fight to the enemy in Iraq. It is time to not just deploy one A-10 squadron, but to let the Warthogs loose en masse via deploying every available A-10 squadron, and allow them to collectively ply their deadly trade like no other weapon system can. If there is any sense left in the USAF's swept-wing fighter-jock heavy management, they would put their pride aside and allow the reclaiming of Iraq to be the Warthog's war.
Photos via USAF, A-10 maneuvering formation shots by our friend Jim Haseltine at High-G Productions via the USAF.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com